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Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

October 19, 2009

7/10 Vivid Imaginations

I’ve been racking my brain over this movie since I walked out of the theater, and while it wasn’t what I expected, I can’t say I’m disappointed.

Where the Wild Things Are is about a lonely kid named Max that freaks out and runs away from home after being ignored one too many times by his family. While wandering through the woods in his neighborhood, he discovers a sailboat, hops on in, and cruises on over to the land of the Wild Things where he is eventually embraced as their king.

If you haven’t read the book, you’re gonna have to take this movie with a grain of salt because that synopsis right there probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to you right now. Go read the book anyway, it takes five minutes to get through, it’s a freakin’ classic and chances are the person sitting closest to you has a copy of it in their bookshelf right now. Man, who didn’t grow up with this book?

Considering I’m not in that minority, to say I was excited to see this movie is the cinematic understatement of the year. The reality of Spike Jonze spearheading the film adaptation of the book my parents had read to me an ungodly amount of times as a kid had me sold from the get-go. It also helped that it was being promoted with the best trailer I’ve seen in a long while.

Great book + great director + great trailer = giddy Aiden.

So yeah, expectations were high.

But after finally getting the chance to see it, I’m still not really sure what I think about all of it.

In terms of remaining faithful to the source material, everything’s there. But how couldn’t it be? There’s hardly anything there to begin with. And that was what I liked most about the story, when it kept things simple and went by what the book had already laid out. But considering that you can’t take a five-minute children’s book and turn it into a nearly two-hour long movie while keeping it verbatim, something had to be added. This was to be expected, but it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.

In short, it’s not simple. Not in the least.

And this is where things got kinda muddled for me. Once Max reaches the Wild Things, the story takes on a whole different tone. It ends up becoming about Max trying to fix the Wild Things’ problems, to take away their loneliness and make life good again in the limited ways he knows how. This role he takes on as their king and savior in a way puts a mirror up to his own circumstances and mindset as a Wild Thing himself, or at least a Wild Thing in wolf’s clothing. In certain ways it’s an interesting a story about growing up, about family, about having good intentions but producing adverse results, but it’s all really, really complicated, more so than it probably needed to be.

I can appreciate what Jonze was going for here, but somewhere in the process it seems like things got a little lost in translation. It was hard for me to understand the significance of certain scenes and certain relationships amongst the Wild Things along with Max’s role in their lives, and believe me, I was trying really hard to break it all down. I’ve been struggling to come up with a way to explain how and why the story here was so difficult for me to follow, but it’s something you really just need to interpret for yourself as it requires a surprising amount of thought and analysis from its viewers.

I’m also not really sure what audience this movie is catering to considering that it’s a children’s movie with a story line that no child can really understand. The parents are probably going to get more out of its astoundingly mature message than any of their kids will.

But aside from the storyline which I’m still not sure is a good thing or a bad thing, Where the Wild Things Are is still an absolutely stunning movie to sit back and marvel at. The visuals seem to be ripped right out of a child’s dreamscape and brought to life by Spike Jonze as though they were his own. The trailer’s just a taste, but you really have to see it for yourself to get that full, delicious serving.

The reason I love Spike Jonze is that he’s all about making movies that are fun, that remind us that our world is really something else to behold, and Wild Things is probably his most accomplished display of both these notions so far. Okay, ending my “Ode to Spike” at that.

The voice acting is also very good considering that it’s got one hell of an all-star cast behind incredibly believable and emotive Wild Thing puppets/costumes. Max Records is also solid as Max – which happens to be the first acting role of his life (lucky). Cool name, too. He could be a super hero if this acting thing doesn’t work out.

And since it’s not every day I come across directors with great taste in music, there’s also a great soundtrack here by Karen O. from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to go along with it all. I might even go ahead buy that soundtrack. It’s that good.

Anyway, I should wrap this up, this is ridiculously long for my taste. I’ve tried my best, but it’s still pretty hard to put down into words the kind of experience I had and you’ll have with Where the Wild Things Are. What you see will take your breath away, and for that reason alone I would recommend it, but I think I’m going to need to give this one another watch to really get a better grasp on everything it was trying to say. But still, give it a shot, it’s the most original thing you’ll see all year.

Now I just need to figure out where the hell I get one of those wolf suits…


Dear WordPress Staff,

Thank you for being so painfully awesome and putting this post on your home page. You’re the bomb, WordPress is the bomb, you totally made my day. Thanks for reading.

– Aiden

28 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2009 1:14 am

    Great post! One of my fav. books as a child. Can’t wait to see the movie. Thanks again for the post.

    • October 19, 2009 9:55 am

      You got it, thanks for reading! Hope you like the movie and let me know what you think.

  2. October 19, 2009 2:34 am

    i just watched this movie today, and i enjoyed it 🙂 AND i enjoyed reading your review!

    i started tearing up at certain points and had to remind myself that they were just monsters after all (or were they? 😉

    the director did leave much of the story open-ended and unresolved, especially in “wild things” land … but i appreciated that. max couldn’t fix their problems or “save” them because he was just like them. he was part of the problem, if not an additional problem sometimes. but like one of the wild things asked, where WILL they find such a king to fix everything and make things okay?

    that question was (brilliantly) left open-ended.

    i wonder what message kids took from it, but in the end, it was a heart-warming movie … with some lack of resolution that makes you think …

  3. jimmynorth permalink
    October 19, 2009 4:12 am

    well, i think it is a rather strange movie (at least because of your descriprion). but that is why i should definitely watch it! lol!

  4. October 19, 2009 7:12 am

    Caught this review in the Freshly Pressed section on WordPress’s main page, having written my own review yesterday. Personally, I really like this film, not in a “this was fun” sort of way but in a mind-blown sort of way. It’s simply visually stunning. I think it’s a film meant for the child inside adults, not kids, as you really have to understand some symbolism to “get it.” The Wild Things, for instance, seem to each represent feelings Max has been struggling with: anger, destructiveness, insecurity, jealousy, sadness, loneliness. In dealing with each of the Wild Things, Max is learning about how difficult it is to be the master of himself and his feelings. I guess my major critique was that I wanted some sort of hope for the Wild Things too. Sure, Max has a mother he could go home to. But what about the Wild Things?

    • paul permalink
      January 3, 2010 3:58 pm

      Yes, I am going to agree with you. The movie is really intended for the child in every adult who will be watching this fascinating movie. It is about coping up with one’s feelings as a child. It is deep…and it is a very good movie with a very profound lesson for adults. This movie can help parents understand their children who are coping up with their down feelings or depressions.

  5. October 19, 2009 7:25 am

    Oh my. This one was at the homepage. Well about the “who didn’t grow up with this book?”, I actually haven’t heard anything about the book version and it being a classic.

    I’m a fan of kiddie movies and all those stuff and since this one is also new and hot, I’m doing to watching it! Thank you on the review.

    You also mentioned about the realistic graphics and beautiful soundtrack and a very good trailer .. these caught my attention.


  6. October 19, 2009 7:43 am

    But after finally getting the chance to see it, I’m still not really sure what I think about all of it.

    My thoughts too after watching the film. I was just really excited about the creature designs. I think I spent most of the time trying to figure out the actors behind the monsters. I was certain that Maggie Gyllenhaal voiced KW.

    I’ve flipped through the book but only looked at the pictures. I remember not being all too impressed when I was a child because I found the illustrations to be too drab in color–all those earth tones.

    I didn’t like Judith–she scared me.

  7. SallyK permalink
    October 19, 2009 8:35 am

    I love this book so much, it was one of my sons favorites when he was growing up, that I am sort of afraid to see the movie. However, this interview with Maurice Sendak is so touching, how being involved with this project has re-energized his writing life, that I feel now I must see it.
    North Coast Muse @

  8. armpitofamerica permalink
    October 19, 2009 9:27 am

    Great review! I feel the same way. Though I was blown away by the visuals, it wasn’t anything like I expected it to be. I was also kinda confused by the storyline. My girlfriend suggested that each of the seven wild things represents a different side of his personality. While this could definitely be the case, it’s still pretty weighty for a movie based on a children’s book of only ten sentences!

  9. danakennedy permalink
    October 19, 2009 9:42 am

    I’m looking forward to seeing the movie for myself. Hope Spike hasn’t overthought the significance of the book; it is, after all, fairly simple in concept. We’re all a bit wild sometimes, but Mom still loves us…

  10. tigretaurus permalink
    October 19, 2009 9:45 am

    Adapting such a short children’s book into a feature-length movie and not disappoint literally generations of people who grew up with the book was always going to be hard, but I am not sure I agree that Spike Jonze (and Dave Eggers) made it too complicated. I feel like they took the essence of the story and gave it words – exactly that life is complex, feelings are complicated, you fight and you hurt each other, but you still love each other in the end.

    Don’t underestimate that children will understand this – I think Jonze did a brilliant job making the movie relevant for children; especially the potential to identify with Max (I thought the actor was unbelievably good).

    Definitely more complex stuff than comparable films; and who would have thought a 12-page source material would make you think so much after leaving the theatre?

  11. Pretty Project permalink
    October 19, 2009 9:58 am

    I agree. This movie was so wonderful to watch but the deeper issue were unexpected and maybe should have been excluded. I think a little more light-heartedness was called for and less bi-polar issues. 🙂

  12. October 19, 2009 11:39 am

    Great blog. I have movie blog here as well. Stop by if you like.

  13. October 19, 2009 1:22 pm

    Psssst! Aiden …
    Check it out. Wild Things’ fort euphoria:

    The best parts of this movie are still sifting through my brain. I was moved in ways I hadn’t entirely expected . . . Then again, I can’t imagine anyone other than Dave Eggers’ hands shaping this into a screenplay. In Dave I Trust.

    Looking forward to following your blog.

  14. October 19, 2009 1:39 pm

    Hi, Aiden

    Don’t think. Feel!

    That’s what Where the Wild Things Are is about, or so it seems to me. I didn’t really know what to expect from this movie, but the opening sequence of Max’s out of control romp with his dog, sucked me completely into his emotional skin, and I just stayed there for the whole movie, seeing and feeling his world through his eyes. I never once thought about analyzing scenes or characters or asking myself what scene or character was “significant.” (And BTW I’m as good at analyzing and dissecting a movie as the next movie junkie.) I just lived it with him.

    We adults have forgotten, or perhaps we don’t want to remember, how strongly we felt things when we were Max’s age, and how big and scary those feelings could be – not only ours, but those of the adults and older siblings around us. It’s not a comfortable memory, so this is not always comfortable movie, but I thought it a brilliant emotional portrait, and a great opportunity to remind ourselves how it feels to be a “difficult” child, or any child whose current emotional environment is just too much for him or her to handle.

    • October 19, 2009 2:09 pm

      Awesome insight into this movie. I don’t know if I’m gonna see it again in the theaters, but I’m going in with your mindset the next time I watch this. Thanks for the comment, slowly piecing this all together through everyone’s input and yours definitely has me thinking…I mean feeling. And thanks for reading!

  15. Branden permalink
    October 19, 2009 3:53 pm

    I think that Spike Jonze was catering to the nostalgia factor of the people that grew up with this book. The themes of the film would go over the heads of children seeing, but when the children grow up, they would appreciate this film the way their parents did.

    I enjoyed the film more than you did.

  16. October 20, 2009 8:06 pm

    I’ve yet to see this film but your reaction seems typical to everyone else I’ve talked to who has seen it. It seems no one quite knows what to make of it. That makes me all the more intrigued. I’m definitely going to have to see this one soon.
    P.S. I loved this book growing up!

  17. October 28, 2009 8:47 pm

    First of all, congrats on the massive exposure this post got you! Gotta love reaching some new readers.

    Something you mentioned caught my attention:

    The parents are probably going to get more out of its astoundingly mature message than any of their kids will.

    This is the mark of a great family film, isn’t it? Something that amuses the kiddies, but stands up to the grown ups and says dares them to dismiss it as kiddie fare. You’ve hit the nail on the head, so here here!

    This movie was in for a tough time when it came to broadening out the story, and in that respect I think Jonze and Eggers did as well as could possibly be expected. It’s no sort of instant classic, but it’s a fitting adaptation of the storybook we all grew up with.

    Great review! Glad I finally got mine written so I can start to read everybody else’s 🙂

  18. Raquel permalink
    October 31, 2009 10:29 pm

    I went to see the movie and it turned out completely different of what I was expecting, which was a child inside his imagination. And I was caught by surprise with the issues that the wild things were dealing with.

    “Can you fix loneliness?” , that was the first phrase that told me it wasn’t for kids. The dialog it’s so strong and I thinks why it’s hard to digest is because it comes from these “wild things”. But also if you haven’t experience these issues they are dealing with it will be hard to understand.

    I felt identify with these characters. They talked about thing that normally we don’t talk about, we just act like it. Destructiveness, insecurity, jealousy, sadness, loneliness. From my experience it came from parents getting divorce and me having to deal with their new couples (Bob and Terry).

    I don’t know why Jonze did it like that, but it seem that it’s made from personal point of view. He is too precise some things, he went straight to the core and to know this is because you have experience it.

    It’s amazing that from a story that is so short, people had their own movie made in their heads of what it was about. By the way I loved the movie. I think everyone has their own version of the “wild thing” and at the end of the day you just have to go back to reality. The movie is Jonze’s version.

  19. Raquel permalink
    October 31, 2009 10:34 pm

    and by the way great post!!! 🙂

  20. Peter permalink
    November 11, 2009 8:32 pm

    Okay. Was NEVER a fan of the book. Shoulda been titled: Much Ado About Nothing. Regardless, was hoping I would enjoy the movie, at least visually. I HATED it. I found it depressing, disturbing, and grim. I did NOT find Max a likeable protagonist. It is certainly not a movie for kids, but I kind of knew that going in. So, what was this really about? Was it about the loneliness, angst, and isolation felt by a psychotic child? It was like, as they may have said in times gone by, a bad acid trip.

    • November 12, 2009 12:21 pm

      Haha, I can definitely understand the acid trip analogy. It’s a weird one. Can’t say I hated it, but was a little disappointed, just because the message felt so muddled. Still, did think it was beautiful to watch, dug the soundtrack, and I’ve got a soft spot for Spike Jonze. But believe me, I get where you’re coming from on this one.

  21. January 11, 2010 8:01 am

    Yeah i totally agree with peter just thought it was shit. The wild things were so depressing and seem more trapped by their own problems than they were wild. Scenery was bland and Max was just a crazy kid. Adults are saying it reminded them of being a kid or how being a kid felt. Being a kid was nothing like this movie for me and wasn’t such a glum existence as the “wild things” have.

    • January 12, 2010 12:47 pm

      Yeah, I didn’t really feel the connection to Max in regards to bringing me back to my youth, but I did think the visuals were pretty out of sight. Still, too complex for its own good.

  22. Wendell permalink
    March 8, 2010 7:14 pm

    It should be renamed “Where the depressed suicidal bland pieces of shit are.”

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